Voice is still a killer app

Sei Mani insight

Voice is still a killer app by Leon Benjamin, 11th August 2015

A certain generation of readers may remember a series of BT commercials on UK national television in the 1980’s, featuring Maureen Lipman as Beattie (BT) in which she extols the value of ‘it’s good to talk’. In one commercial, the father of a daughter calling relatives in Australia announcing her impending marriage, is on bended knee, begging her to ‘go faster’ to avoid a huge bill for a short two-minute international phone call.

Goodbye dial up and text

A rarely reported event at the turn of this century when broadband services were launched to consumers when we all said goodbye to dial-up and the ‘world wide wait’, is that the killer internet app was voice precisely because of the high cost of making calls over the analogue telephone network. Instant messaging followed close behind. Vonage was for a time the dominant player but was displaced by the phenomenal success of Skype and its completely free peer-2-peer voice service. ICQ’s instant messaging app had tens of millions of users in 2001 (eventually acquired by AOL) and inspired the creation of Microsoft and Yahoo Messenger, which also acquired huge numbers of users.

Source: Economist

Source: Economist

Microsoft Messenger peaked at 300m users before it shut down a couple of years ago, likely blown away by the meteoric rise of WhatsApp with over 700m users. Let’s think about this for a moment. Christianity took nearly nineteen centuries to attract 600 million ‘followers’. WhatsApp hit 900 million users from a standing start in just six years. In a single wave of mass consumer adoption, WhatsApp destroyed the SMS revenues of mobile operators all over the planet, in just two years. WhatsApp certainly isn’t spiritual but people use it religiously. Why should this be any different in the enterprise?

The case for the value of voice and instant messaging in the enterprise becomes obvious considering:

The rate of knowledge creation.

Until the 1900s, accumulation of knowledge doubled every century. Today, the sum total of human knowledge doubles every 2-3 years and 70% of all information was created since the Internet began. In 50 years, 95% of everything we know will have been discovered in those 50 years (Source: Cisco).

We’re drowning in Email.

There are 2.3 billion email users worldwide, and the average mailbox stores 8,024 messages. In 2013, humanity sent about 150 billion emails each day (Source: The Radicati Group, CA, USA). If one day of the world’s emails were printed out, the stack of paper would be 10,000 miles high. A month of them would reach to the moon. Google estimates there are three trillion indexed web addresses, and some researchers estimate email content is about three times the size of the web’s pages indexed by Google.

Access to a soft telephone and instant messaging app that tells you if a co-worker is available means people can tap into their colleague’s brains to avoid searching through content to find the information they need which would otherwise take a hundred human lifetimes to filter, search and sort. For many of the ordinary but necessary, small-scale but often consequential needs of everyday working life voice is still a killer app—to get an opinion, to complain, to find empathy, to share good news, to check a fact quickly—what people need is someone who is available and not a total stranger. That description fits modern co-workers perfectly. Among their greatest benefit is that they are there.

People do business on the phone but the information, people and conversations to support it, are someplace else.

A frequently cited frustration of collaboration practitioners is that ‘community doesn’t happen over here and business over there’. People do business on the phone but the information, people and conversations to support it, are someplace else.

Source: Bulpros

Source: Bulpros

Integrated Voice and Video

Now that voice and video can be integrated and embedded right in the browser where that information lives, one of the most intractable knowledge transfer problems in the enterprise is fixed, the value of which cannot be underestimated. The recent creation of a universal standard for embedding real-time communications in other web applications called WebRTC has given birth to Click2Call and Click2Meet features so people can move between different types of communication at the point of consuming information generated by their colleagues in their activity stream. So now community and business can happen in the same place.

That’s why voice is still a killer app.

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